Kansas Poets "Shoptalk" Series
Program 3 - Steven Hind
September 12, 2006


Steven Hind
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Steven HindSteven Hind is a native Kansan who grew up at the headwaters of the Verdigris River near Madison.  He was educated at Emporia State University and the University of Kansas.  He taught English in Kansas for 36 years.  Three collections of his poetry have been published:  Familiar Ground (1980), That Trick of Silence (1990), and In a Place With No Map (1997).  A forthcoming collection to be published in spring, 2006, is titled The Loose Change of Wonder.

Hind’s poetry has been published in periodicals, including Cottonwood, Farmer’s Market, Midwest Quarterly, Inscape, Ellipsis, Kansas Quarterly, American Land Forum, and Kansas English.  His poems have been printed in various anthologies, including 30 Kansas Poets, Kansas Voices, The Book of Contemporary Myth, and As Far As I Can See.  He served as editor of Young Kansas Writers for five years and has been a book talk presenter for the Kansas Humanities Council since 1986.

“Poetry is a mediation between feeling and experience, a guiding light, and a demonstration of how language works.”

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 Kansas Poet Laureate Jonathan Holden on Steven Hind

Often, when I think of the Poet Laureateship of Kansas, I think the true Poet Laureate of Kansas will always be the late William Stafford (1914-1993), signaled by such poems as The Farm on the Great Plains with its ending "My self will be the plain . . . "  ...but Stafford left Kansas for Oregon years ago.  He was always playing on an international stage, and, at one point, Stafford chortled over this ("They call it regional, this relevance.")   Who are the poets who stayed in Kansas?

One of the best of them is Steven Hind, and his latest poetry collection, The Loose Change of Wonder (Woodley Press, 2006) mentions Stafford several times. Let's take as a paradigm of Hinds' best poetry the poem below, Fall Morning at the Santa Fe Tracks, west of Dodge City, Kansas.

    The first north wind of fall ruffles
    clumps of little bluestem, the seed
    flags of buffalo grass, and ragged
    plumes of gayfeather. Snake cotton
    edges the sidewalk above U.S. 50.

    On the covered sign, Little Raven
    laments Arapahoe losses, a silence
    carried on the wind.  A stranger
    with a camera asks me how I'm doing.
    "Fine." I say, holding to my hat as
    we pass in the wind.  For a moment by
    my car I stare at a sunflower's struggle.

    A driven mist clouds the river valley
    where a John Deere u-turns at the end
    of the brown expanse, dragging a wheat
    drill.  A plastic cup top at my feet
    points a red and white drinking straw
    at the sky.  Cars rush past, a few
    with their fog lights still gleaming.

Immediately, I think of Ezra Pound's famous dictum, "The natural fact is always the adequate symbol."  The Pound dictum was, of course, a reaction against the poetry of his moment, in particular a brief fashion called Georgian poetry.  But it's good advice for all poets, at any historical moment.  Don't be artificial.  Be authentic, difficult advice, recalling Lionel Trilling's famous essay Sincerity and Authenticity in which the last chapter was The Authentic Unconscious.

A second poem which touches me in this rigorous book is Waking in the Flint Hills.

    Piercing the peace of a morning moon,
    an oil well bows its head and squeaks
    up a dipper of crude.  In the far darkness
    a diesel fumbles gears to make the grade
    as two crows by the roadway caw about
    breakfast on the asphalt, and the native
    grasses whisper under another assault
    by the grazers.  A Brangus ruminates
    behind a scrim of sumac.  A quavering
    column of coyote song rises to the sky:
    "This is a good day to cry" they might
    be singing. A poet in his tent joins in,
    reciting his sword words over the world.

In all the best poetry we find duality:  Is the oil well crying or laughing?  Or both?  This question, this paradox underlies all of the best modern writing that I know.

  Jonathan Holden